For example, go to a retail store and check out the cash registers: The old mechanical adding machines have become media experiences, not unlike Web sites. Cash registers now have multiple screens, capable of showing inventory, customer purchase history, and more. Behind the scenes at the warehouse, workers move products from truck to shelf and back again in the inventory system. Information is provided to them via wireless computers worn on their wrists, giving the process a cyborg-like feel. The work is still physical, but now there is a media layer on top of the classic ergonomic issues — a forklift driver’s minute-by-minute performance can now be negatively impacted by poor information design.
At headquarters, too, the product that is being moved about is information. Everyone is on e-mail, managers have company-supplied Blackberries, the company’s Intranet provides access to forms, department information, company news and announcements, and electronic tools. It’s all a media experience, but very little of how it was originally set up was overseen by people with media perspectives.
Every modern company is, in very real terms, a media company. Media isn’t just for marketing and ecommerce anymore. Nearly every job in the modern workplace is to some extent a media job, which means that companies will need employees with keen insight in their organization’s media experience, which goes well beyond getting ten thousand followers on Twitter. Studying media can help us understand the benefits of applications like Twitter—as well as the drawbacks—and allows us to apply that knowledge to media problems wherever they may arise.
Anyone can learn how to Tweet the company news, but can you see how to reduce errors by tying cash registers to an internal micro-blog that allows checkers to choose which other store employees they follow in real-time while they work? Can you demonstrate that a forklift driver posting his observations on how much longer it took to retrieve a pallet of popular items compared to three pallets of less-popular items can lead to improved efficiency? Can you improve Intranets so they will actually be used?
The media tsunami has already hit the workplace, and a lot of people are struggling to stay afloat. Whether or not companies start to consciously understand they are now in the media business, they will eventually notice who solves media problems for them. Understanding how media experiences shape what people do is going to be an increasingly useful skill as companies begin to recognize the role of media at all levels of business.
Brook Ellingwood is a Media Producer, Information Architect, and User Experience Developer. His own social Web can be followed using brookellingwood.com as a starting point.